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Deputies to pay a premium

Supes decide to impose cost-cutting moves without union approval
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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Correction: The initial story incorrectly stated the percentage members of the Placer County Deputy Sheriff’s Association currently pay for health insurance. Generally, the county pays 90 percent of the average health-insurance premium cost of all plans available to deputies. That contract provision went into effect in November 2005. The article was corrected to reflect that. Placer County supervisors took a hard line with its unionized deputies on stalled negotiations Tuesday. Supervisors voted unanimously during a session punctuated by sometimes-testy exchanges to make a series of benefit adjustments intended to save the county about $815,000 this year. Deputies will generally pay 20 percent of health-insurance premium costs while the county will pay the other 80 percent. The proposal, which will now see the 230 association members pay a larger portion of premium costs, had been voted down late last month by the Placer County Deputy Sheriff’s Association. The vote had been 178-1 and followed protracted contract talks over nearly three years. Josh Tindall, president of the association, said members were willing to consider paying a share of premium costs but had no guarantees in the offer they voted on that they would stop paying the 20 percent after the economy turned around. Tindall said he was “very disappointed” with the supervisors’ vote. “It has been ‘take it or leave it’ from Day One,” he said. “Will it affect our professionalism? No. Our integrity remains intact but we’re going to have to do what we do for less.” Dick Whitmore, an attorney hired by the county for negotiations, said that deputies got a 6.3 percent increase in pay last February under provisions of voter-approved Measure F. Staff estimates are that the impact of cost-sharing for deputies this year ranges between 4 percent and 6.5 percent, depending on health plan coverage. Whitmore said that automatic salary increases next February will mean they will sustain no net loss in pay. Deputies speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, however, said the decision to impose premium-sharing increases would hit them hard in the pocketbook. Deputy Kenneth Skogen went from rescuing a senior in the Aug. 30 49 Fire to making a plea to supervisors Tuesday for more time to work things out with the association. The association requested another 30 days to try to hammer out an agreement. Skogen said he couldn’t understand why he was going to soon be taking what he considers a $500-a-month pay cut. “We make split decisions every day and are the given the authority to take a life,” Skogen said. “A secretary doesn’t run into a burning building when he hears someone scream “My mother’s in there.” Yet we’re the only part of the county asked to take a pay cut.” Supervisor Robert Weygandt said that he was seeing “a huge amount of miscommunication.” “My understanding is there would not be a Deputy Sheriff’s Association member who wouldn’t be taking home a paycheck that’s bigger,” Weygandt said. Job market conditions in the future could mean that the county would reconsider the cost-sharing agreement if it meant it could attract deputy candidates, he said. “The medical formula is not permanent,” he said. “Nothing is permanent about any component in the contract.” Supervisor Kirk Uhler said he would ask negotiators to continue to work with the deputies association. “The door doesn’t close,” he said. Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery said the association is the last of the employee groups to move into the 20 percent health-care cost sharing. “It is equitable and it is playing fair,” Montgomery said. “It’s stepping up to the same level as the rest of the employees of Placer County.” But sheriff’s officer Scott Swanson said reducing the county share of premium coverage was a “difficult pill to swallow.” “All we’re asking for is that if we have to take a hit, don’t make it permanent,” he said.